The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER Says: Never (Bleep) With the Football Gods….

February 7, 2011
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      Okay, so the Green Bay Packers just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31 to 25 in the Super Bowl, and with a possible labor lockout looming later this winter—just over the horizon, in the land of Greed—another thrill-packed NFL season now evanesces into the grainy, misty miasma of Sports history.   Bummer.   Always a sad day when the football season is officially over.   But what, pray tell, is the larger significance of this game?

      I’ll get to that.

Roethlisberger during the Super Bowl XL victory parade in Pittsburgh

Roethlisberger during the Super Bowl XL victory parade in Pittsburgh


      First, by way of a little necessary housekeeping, and in case you’re interested in what your friendly neighborhood Sports Philosopher thinks about things, let me tell you what I thought of the game.

      Fantastic!   Fascinating, really.   Pittsburgh was down by 18 points just before halftime, and came within a nostril hair of winning this game.   It would have been, by far, the greatest deficit ever overcome to win the Super Bowl.   That’s what I call drama.   Of course the problem for the Steelers is that they made three turnovers and Green Bay made none.   You almost never win a football game when you’re on the wrong side of a minus-3 turnover ratio.   And yet Pittsburgh had more first downs (Green Bay had only 15), ran more offensive plays, had more yards rushing (by far), and somehow managed to hold the ball for seven more minutes.   And yet they only lost by six points.   How can that be?   What does it mean when a team dominates so many key statistical categories and barely loses?   Similarly, how can you dominate those key statistical categories when you are giving the ball away so many times?   And how, with a minus-3 turnover ratio, including watching the other team score 21 points off of those three turnovers including running one interception all the way back for a touchdown, can you avoid getting blown out by twenty or thirty points (which usually happens in that situation), much less come within one late-game drive of winning?   How can all that be?   What does it all mean?


      It means Pittsburgh was the better team.

      They were.   I thought it was obvious.   Pittsburgh dominated both lines of scrimmage, ran the ball beautifully while just as surely stopping the Green Bay running game, and was clearly the stronger club.   I don’t say that with any sour grapes.   The last thing I am is a Steelers fan.   I tried to “root” for the Steelers, partly by way of pride (because I picked them to win) and partly because a couple close friends of mine bet on them (partially on my say-so), but I have never, ever, liked the Steelers.   They practically ruined the 70s for me, as I was a Raiders fan in the 70s and Pitt torched the Raiders in several gut-wrenching playoffs games back then, at the cost of my optimistic innocence and seemingly at my direct expense.   The problem is that I have never liked the Packers either.   They play in the same division as my real favorite team (the Bears) and they just beat the Bears in the NFC title game.   In other words, I had to root for somebody.

      I also do not seek to demean the Packers or minimize what they did, by stating clearly and definitively that Pittsburgh was the better team.   Quite the contrary.   Any team can win a game if they are better.   But I think that the highest compliment you can pay a team is to acknowledge that they were not the better team, but that due to resourcefulness and/or a heartwarming, heroic effort, they somehow managed to win anyway.   Championships aren’t always won by the best team; sometimes they are won by the team that plays the best that day.   So I say bravo, Green Bay, congratulations on a job well done, and good job on playing an opportunistic David to Pittsburgh’s overconfident Goliath (I love Bible references).

      Truth is, Pittsburgh played a lousy game.   I mean mentally.   They were the better, stronger team, but they couldn’t possibly have played a worse game with respect to poise, composure, mental toughness, and playing up to one’s potential.   For instance, the penalties were about even, but by far the two most critical, crippling penalties were committed by the Steelers.   First, the dumb clipping penalty which nullified a long kick return in the first half, leading directly to the desperation interception run-back for a touchdown, and lastly, with less than two minutes to go in the game, some Steelers guy pushed some Packers guy down, drawing a mind-boggling personal foul penalty which backed the Steelers up to the shadow of their goal line, drastically reducing their chances of pulling off the last-minute miracle.   When you can’t hold your temper any better than that, you deserve to lose.   Also, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs—on every key completion by Green Bay’s brilliant quarterback Aaron Rodgers—simply forgot to put their hands up in time, and barely, barely, missed knocking down key, long, game-changing completions.   I replayed them all, just to make sure I was right.

      And of course, the turnovers.   And now we come to the real story of Super Bowl XLV.

      Ben Roethlisberger.

      This game was about Ben Roethlisberger.

      The Steelers’ future Hall of Fame quarterback played, I believe, the worst game of his career Sunday night.   And I refer not to just the two interceptions.   He was wild with his throws the whole game, his ball usually sailing high and wide of his receivers, and if there is such a thing in football as an “easy” long bomb Ben missed it in the 3rd quarter, when he missed a wide-open Mike Wallace by a mile in the end zone which would have given Pittsburgh the lead in a game they never led.   Finally, down by only six points with two minutes to go, with the game on the line (a situation in which he normally has no peer), the normally cool and clutch Roethlisberger looked very unsure of himself, threw several bad passes, and couldn’t even get Pittsburgh past the midfield stripe.   In short, he was awful.   Of all the many reasons the clearly stronger Steelers lost this game, he was the main reason.

      Normally I would just say, “that’s the way it goes”.   Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose.   And everybody plays a bad game once in awhile, etc.   But remember, this game was about Ben Roethlisberger.   The same Ben Roethlisberger who was suspended for the first four games of this season for conduct detrimental to the NFL.   The same Ben Roethlisberger who was accused of sexual assault, not once but twice—in Lake Tahoe in 2008 and in Milledgeville, Georgia in 2010—the second of the two far more serious as he was alleged to have assaulted a woman in the women’s bathroom of a nightclub.   No charges were filed due to lack of incontrovertible evidence, but Roethlisberger’s conduct was damning and repetitive enough for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend him.

      There is no NFL player who more people I know personally dislike than Roethlisberger.   Many people I know rooted against the Steelers simply and solely because they wanted Roethlisberger to hit bottom.   Is Roethlisberger a rapist or a sexual predator?   Heck, I don’t know.   I do know that as one of the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl he was forced to field quite a lot of questions related to his off-field antics during Super Bowl Week.   It had to be a distraction.   Did Big Ben play the worst game of his career due to the cumulative weight of all the questions and anger and venom directed at him all year?   I don’t now that either.

      But I wonder: Did the football gods take sides on Sunday?

      Aaron Rodgers seems to be loved by everybody.   I can never recall more love thrown at a Super Bowl quarterback before the big game than was throw at Rodgers last week.   By all accounts he’s a nice guy, a humble guy, and there are no scandals attached to his resume.   Plus, people were also rooting for him for having to endure several years of holding Brett Favre’s coat in Green Bay, while the latter held that town hostage with his constant threats to retire.   This game definitely had a good vs. evil feel to it.   The Green Bay Packers—a team owned by the actual residents of that so-small town—were seen as the good guys.   The Steelers—mean and nasty— were the bad guys.   Rodgers is beloved.   Roethlisberger is reviled.  

      Did the football gods step in and redirect all those Roethlisberger passes to either the ground or to the arms of the guys wearing green and yellow?

      Well, if you’re looking for a clue, consider this.   All during the season, and during this game, Roethlisberger sported a full, woolly beard and moustache.   Yet less than an hour after the game, by the time he met the press with his teary-eyed mea culpa, he was as clean shaven as a high school freshman.   I was stunned.   He looked so young and helpless.   So baby-faced.   So pathetic.   Beaten.  

      Seems like sort of a Samson thing with the hair, don’t you think?   (You can’t go wrong with those Bible references…)

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image002

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and lifelong hater of the Pittsburgh Steelers.    Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered by clicking the delightful yet unappreciated links below: 






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